Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the promoters of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with the Bill, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament, provided that the Agents for the Bill give notice to the Clerks in the Private Bill Office not later than the day before the close of the present Session of their intention to suspend further proceedings and that all fees due on the Bill up to that date be paid;
That on the fifth day on which the House sits in the next Session the Bill shall be presented to the House;
That there shall be deposited with the Bill a declaration signed by the Agents for the Bill, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill at the last stage of its proceedings in this House in the present Session;
That the Bill shall be laid upon the Table of the House by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office on the next meeting of the House after the day on which the Bill has been presented and, when so laid, shall be read the first and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed);
That all Petitions relating to the Bill presented in the present Session which stand referred to the Committee on the Bill shall stand referred to the Committee on the Bill in the next Session;
That no Petitioners shall be heard before the Committee on the Bill, unless their Petition has been presented within the time limited within the present Session or deposited pursuant to paragraph (b) of Standing Order 126 relating to Private Business;
That in relation to the Bill, Standing Order 127 relating to Private Business shall have effect as if the words "under Standing Order 126 (Reference to committee of petitions agaist bill)" were omitted;
That no further fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during the present Session;
That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected the amendments. I call Mr. Tim Yeo.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. Ken Weetch (Ipswich)
I have not participated in a debate of this kind, objecting that a motion be carried over, since I have been a Member of the House, and it is certainly not my intention to be obstructive. The number of times I have spoken on private Bills is very small. Nevertheless, I am speaking on this one because I have a critical constituency interest in the matter and there is still an enormous amount of dissatisfaction from environmental groups and others in my part of East Anglia about the substance of this Bill.
I do not intend to waste the time of the House, but certain issues arise and I am objecting to the carry-over motion, if I can put it like that, because of the material that still remains in this Bill and for the arguments that are still being used to put this Bill through the House. I am given to understand that it is a matter of usage that these matters are carried over, usually on the nod. I do not see why that should always be so, nor why it should be automatic, particularly if new material has arisen on the issue under discussion.
I shall not speak at any great length, but new factors have arisen since the Bill was debated on Second Reading, and it is because of that new material that I wish to make a short speech of objection to the whole principle of the carry-over motion.
78 The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company should be made to argue the case again. The three-hour debate we had before was wholly insufficient to give critical scrutiny to the arguments made in the House. We have another chance, which I welcome, of debating the controversial material contained in the propositions for the Bill. Undoubtedly, some people will find the whole issue tiresome and think it would be far more convenient for us all to push the thing through and carry it over because that is the axiomatic precedent. I do not agree, because last time we had limited time at our disposal and many things were not discussed adequately.
I do not want to go over the material I went over last time because I have fresh things to say and fresh arguments to put before the House on the terms of my objection to this motion. I wish to do so for general reasons, but also because my constituency is directly affected and the dissatisfaction still remains. One new piece of material has arisen from the discussions on the guarantees relating to navigation and the Orwell estuary. When I spoke on Second Reading, my objections to the Bill centred on three areas. The first was the effect on the port of Ipswich, especially but not solely as it was affected by navigational matters. Secondly—and I have new material on this point too—I objected on environmental grounds because environmental opinion in the area is overwhelmingly against the Bill. It was then and it is now.
My third point relates to arguments centred upon developing balanced ports capacity, and the possible repercussions that a laissez-faire approach to port development will have on the industry as a whole. I am still not convinced on any of these grounds, but I recognise that assurances have been given and accepted about the possible navigational interference with ships, particularly grain vessels, using the Orwell estuary. I am pleased to say that and, without making too much of it, I understand that the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company through the Harwich harbour authority is willing to give the Ipswich port authority financial and priority guarantees about the passage of vessels. This carne about in discussions since the Bill was last before the House.
I am pleased to see the Minister in his place and should like to ask him for a piece of information which he could perhaps give me when he speaks in the debate. I am given to understand, quite literally in the last 24 hours, that it will not be possible to give legislative authority to the guarantees under or within the framework of any Harwich harbour legislation because such guarantees, particularly with financial backing, would be ultra vires. I would appreciate the Minister's information on that. I was pleased to see these guarantees, or promises of them at least. As I understand it, they will have to be as part and parcel of private legislation sought by the Ipswich port authority when it seeks additional powers some time in the next Session.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
Will my hon. Friend give way? This concession is obviously important, but does it not illustrate the problem? The Bill made virtually no progress other than getting its Second Reading in the last Session, and it will be easy for the promoters to drop it and introduce in the next Session a new Bill which could, of course, have a much wider scope than this one and could take into account the point made by my hon. Friend. If they persist in going for the carry-over over motion, the Bill will have to remain in its narrow 79 form and it will not be possible for the House to amend it to take into account even the concession the promoters now want to make.
§ Mr. Weetch
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. What he says is certainly correct. If a new Bill were drafted incorporating all the assurances that have been given and perhaps any assurances that would arise from new discussions, which I would welcome, it may be that the new legislative shape of this measure could be put before the House to some advantage. I certainly accept what my hon. Friend has said.
I am dissatisfied with the current situation and one of the things I want to do is to challenge the whole of the economic case for the expansion of the port. The issue at the centre of the economic part of the debate is how many jobs the new extension at Felixstowe will create. In fact, the issue is narrower than that, because the relevant question is how many real new jobs will be created.
I argued in our previous debate that the Bill would not create many new jobs and would merely shift jobs from place to place and have detrimental repercussions on other ports, particularly Liverpool, Tilbury and Southampton.
A real increase in employment possibilities will depend on the traffic throughput of Felixstowe. I have new material in support of my objections to the motion. No statistical case had been made to the House in favour of the expansion of the port and the claim that net new jobs will be created. I have examined everything said in the previous debate and all the comment in newspapers and specialist journals. It is 100 per cent. assertion, and partial and slanted assertion at that.
We did not have time in the previous debate to challenge the statistical merits of the case and the assumptions on which arguments were mounted. I intend to do that today. Statistics in the ports industry are enormously complicated. They depend on the capacity of a port and the capacity of other ports, as well as on the capital intensity of improvements, the mix of traffic and any changes in that mix.
The crux of my attack on the economic case of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company is that much will depend on Felixstowe's ability to attract real trade growth as opposed to attracting trade away from other ports in East Anglia and elsewhere.
Independent experts who have studied the subject—I quoted two in our previous debate, so I shall not quote any more—believe that no real jobs will be created and that it is likely that there will be a shift in jobs from area to area with detrimental repercussions on ports elsewhere. We need information and details and I regret that we are unable to get from the company the necessary information to make a decision in principle. We lacked that information during our previous debate and it has not been provided for this debate. I can see that I could be said to be putting forward a case that is partial in a constituency sense, but I have tried to get the information required by writing to the company. It seemed to me that, as the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, if I wanted to know the likely new throughput of traffic as a result of the expansion of the dock and the creation of three new berths, I should write to the company.
Therefore, I wrote to the company on 25 April and asked for its estimate of the new traffic that it thought 80 would arise from the expansion outlined in the Bill. That would have enabled me to make a responsible estimate of whether the case would stand on its economic base. I received a letter from the managing director who said that he did not feel disposed to supply the information to me because I appeared to be an "implacable opponent" of the Bill, because of my "profound ignorance" of the British ports system and because I was the recipient of "mischievous advice" from third parties.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Does my hon. Friend agree that people who make such insulting remarks are usually trying to put up a smokescreen over the fact that they do not know the answers? Is it not true that the promoters do not have a clue about how many extra ships or containers they want to get, because they have no idea what developments will occur over the next two years? For example, the building of a fixed link across the Channel would have fundamental implications for British docks and would make the Felixstowe development highly questionable.
§ Mr. Weetch
That is right. I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I appreciate that the company will present a detailed case if the Bill reaches its Committee stage. I am not asking for a Committee debate at this stage. I ask merely for sufficient information to enable us to decide whether the Bill should go ahead.
I asked the company for answers and for statistical projections so that I could set out the case for independent examination. I did not get those answers and the House and I are left with mere assertions that there will he substantial economic benefits that will make the enterprise worth the violation of an area of outstanding natural beauty in Suffolk and a site of special scientific interest.
As I received no answers from the company. I had to look for statistical information that was available in public places, and there is plenty of that. First, in a letter received by the planning committee of Suffolk county council before its meeting on 9 October last year, the company said that it expected that the full development proposed in the Bill would produce a net increase of 500 in the company's own direct work force. That is set out in the planning committee's report and evidence, which I have read carefully.
However, the company subsequently advised the Suffolk county council that the figure was not 500, but 1,000. In the space of a relatively few hours, the job creation part of the estimate had doubled, for no apparent reason except a drumming up of support for a doubtful case.
It was also said that 400 new jobs would be created by further investment in the Languard and Dooley terminals and the construction of the Trinity terminal. That brought the grand total of new jobs to 1,400. The Felixstowe port users' association was reported in the East Anglian Daily Times as expecting the employment of an additional 1,400 people directly. In the same newspaper on 6 November last year, Mr. Derek Kingston of the company predicted 1,100 new jobs, based on known manning levels and predicted levels of technology.
Those are four or five examples of where the estimate of the number of new jobs to be created has differed every time someone has spoken. They think of a number and multiply it by two. I hope that the House will agree that this is a pretty doubtful statistical case to put in order to obtain permission from the House for a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those of us who know about ports and their growth realise that it may be very difficult indeed to establish exactly how many jobs would be created under certain hypothetical growth conditions. On thing, however, is quite certain: if a port is constrained so that it cannot grow there will be no growth of jobs there. The jobs will he created in other ports overseas.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
We seem to be straying a little out of order. When the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) puts forward his argument that a new Bill should be presented because of new material, that is in order, but when we go outside that argument to refer to matters that could very well have been discussed on Second Reading that is out of order.
§ Mr. Weetch
I tried to show that the material was simply not available on Second Reading. With the material not being available, how could we discuss the exact terminology of this Bill and what it seeks to do? I am arguing therefore that the Bill has no justification in reason at all. Every proposition in this Bill has to be reasoned out in some way or another. What I am trying to point out to the House is that the whole basis is the swamp that Felixstowe used to be 20 or 30 years ago, and we are being asked to put our names to a pretty gimcrack case in this carry-over motion.
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) who has touched on a very important matter in relation to the projected number of jobs likely to be created if this Bill were to proceed unimpeded. If my hon. Friend were to cast his mind back to six weeks ago, he would agree that what can be described as new and fresh evidence was brought to light in respect of the proceedings on this Bill, and he and I will share the same concern. The Department of Transport issued a circular indicating that it had appointed specialists to advise the Secretary of State about the viability or otherwise of the various projects on the Channel fixed link. I was in Dover three weeks ago——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I cannot see that this has anything to do with the motion before the House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It may have everything to do with the point that the hon. Member was making, but it has nothing to do with the motion before the House.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are, as I understand it, debating a carry-over motion. I think that some of us observed that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) came down to do a bit of quiet lobbying, but it seemed to me that we were going along very nicely ——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that I am not misunderstanding the reference to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James). Neither he nor anyone else has lobbied me about anything today.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I was not suggesting that he had lobbied you, Sir, but it seemed to me that we were firmly in order in that on the Opposition side we were objecting to the carry-over motion on the basis that there was new evidence which had come forward. My hon. Friend referred to the fact that it was a statutory instrument. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) and I have referred to the possibility of the Channel fixed link, information which was not available at the Second Reading. These were all reasons that could be put forward as to why the Bill at this stage should not proceed further and why the promoters should come forward in the new Session with a new Bill and provide the House with new information, or let the whole matter drop. It seemed to me that we were not straying out of order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I suppose that we are in the area of opinion, but it is my opinion that the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) was getting out of order insofar as it would be open, I suppose, given the constantly changing nature of ports and other features of the economy, to argue that any change in any port or any evidence of change in the economy would have relevance to the matter that we are discussing. If that were the case and were accepted by the Chair, I do not think that we would get to the motion tonight. We cannot stray so far out of order. I felt that I was being very flexible and tolerant to the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch). He recognises that. I think that we ought to get closer to the argument being originally advanced by him.
§ Mr. Weetch
After that exchange, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I welcome your tolerance because I am no constitutional expert on the procedures of the House, and I constantly need advice. However, I try to avoid wasting the time of the House with arguments that I have put forward before. I looked up the precedents—and there are not many—for this type of debate and looked at some of the speeches made on previous occasions when this type of motion was debated. The speeches usually say that the objection to the carry-over motion is for reasons a, b, c and d; and one of those reasons is usually new material that has arisen in the course of time.
I put that to the House not in any sense of constitutional chicanery or because I want to make a long speech, but because I genuinely believe that new issues have arisen which critically affect the substance of this Bill. I do not want to abuse the time of the House. I am, therefore, willing to give way. But let us take it to its logical conclusion. If all we are going to debate is a few lines of constitutional patter, there will be no argument about the Bill on a valuable occasion like this so that in the end we might as well pack up our marbles and go home. I give way again.
§ Mr. Stott
When we debated this matter on 13 May, the Government had not issued their instructions or guidelines to the particular company charged with evaluating the various schemes that the Government have asked for on the fixed Channel link. We did not have at that time, therefore, any indication of whether the Government were going to support in principle the fixed 83 Channel link. It is obvious from what they have done since then, in spite of what anybody may or may not think, that the fixed link may very well go ahead. If it does, it will have tremendous ramifications for our ports policy in the United Kingdom. What my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) is attempting to adduce this evening is that the projections given by the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company could be put in serious jeopardy if the fixed Channel link were to go ahead, because the volume of cargo currently going through the port of Dover is greater in both value and volume than that going through the port of Felixstowe. That must have consequences for what is happening in the House tonight.
§ Mr. Weetch
In the flurry of exchanges which we have had in the last few minutes, I neglected to answer the intervention of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths). It was a fair intervention and he made a fair point. Of course one cannot with any certainty predict how many jobs, down to the last 10, 20 or 30, will be created. This is a very hazardous business and it is fraught with uncertainty. I may say, however, that none of the uncertainties has been mentioned in the press or elsewhere by the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company. It has been putting forward these economic arguments with the certainty of a weighing machine on Victoria station that speaks one's weight. It has been saying that the statistics mean that employment in East Anglia will take a substantial lift. All that I am doing is to challenge that assertion and say that, if that is so, could we have approximate chapter and verse?
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, referred to 2,400 jobs created indirectly because of a multiplier effect. However, he did not refer to 500, 1,000, 1,400 or 1,100. I have taken the statistics available and 'phoned round a large part of the ports industry, and nobody will believe that those figures are at all credible.
§ Mr. Yeo
The hon. Gentleman said that he had made inquiries of the dock company about the benefits of the scheme. Did he also make inquiries of the East Anglian branch of the Transport and General Workers Union? If so, did the union explain to him, as it has explained to others, that it is in favour of the Bill?.
§ Mr. Weetch
The national TGWU is opposed to the expansion because it will create even more capacity at a time when there is already excess capacity in Britain's docks. I have been to see the shop stewards from the TGWU in Ipswich three or four times. It is largely on their behalf that I am speaking. I also invited my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), our Front Bench spokesman, to check the situation. I do not know where the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) got his information about the TGWU in East Anglia. I have been seen not only by the TGWU's general secretary but by the union's eastern regional organiser. The only group of people in the TGWU who are in step are those on Felixstowe dock itself. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), who is a member of the docks group of the TGWU, will refer to that. However, I appreciate the intervention because that point should be clarified.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Does my hon. Friend agree that the area with the lowest unemployment and therefore the least need for new jobs is Felixstowe? Almost all the other docks that have been mentioned have higher unemployment, and it would be unfortunate if the jobs were taken from docks that have a far greater need of them and transferred to Felixstowe. According to the figures that my hon. Friend mentioned, how many would be new employees and how many people would be simply transferring from one dock area to another?
§ Mr. Weetch
I shall come shortly to a statistical argument which is based on figures that I have, and that were taken from public places.
Since 1979, unemployment in the Ipswich and Felixstowe area has increased by 300 per cent. Whose fault is that? The statistical validity of the dock and railway company's case is doubtful. Let me come to the brass tacks. It is important to realise that the relationship is concerned not necessarily with port capacity, but with the estimate of throughput of extra traffic related to the numbers employed. That depends on a complicated set of equations. Nevertheless, we can have a go.
From 1979 until July 1984 the company had increased its direct work force by 200 in round figures. During that period the throughput tonnage, taken from the company's handbook, grew from 5.5 million tonnes to 8.5 million tonnes. The important relationship, assuming similar labour and capital intensity—in fact, the figures go my way if there is any more capital intensity in the development—is that between the cargo throughput and the number employed. Therefore, an increase of 3 million tonnes in throughput was needed to bring about 200 new jobs. We are being promised 1,400 jobs— 1,000 at the three new berths and 400 at the Languard and Dooley terminals. Given the same relationship, an extra 21 million tonnes will be needed to create an extra 1,400 direct jobs at the dock. If one adds the present output of 8.5 million tonnes, in round figures one is calculating on a total Felixstowe throughput of about 30 million tonnes. To put that in perspective, that is three times the current throughput of all the haven ports put together — Harwich, Felixstowe and Ipswich.
I can find no serious statistician who actually believes that case. Nevertheless it is being foisted on the East Anglian public with the argument that if the development does not go ahead there will be a shortage of this and that, and a jobs catastrophe. The job creation exercise of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company is sheer moonshine. That is all it is. However, although I have put my case as strongly as I can, I stand to be corrected by statistical argument from Conservative Members, to which I would listen carefully.
The statistical case is pretty doubtful. Not only is the development of the further extension of Felixstowe outlined in the Bill at a time of excess deep sea container capacity elsewhere, but it is becoming even more questionable in the regional context of East Anglia. Another new piece of information that I wish to put before the House is that across the estuary from us, at Bathside bay, is being developed a deep sea container port described by Mr James Sherwood of British Ferries as a container port that will rival Felixstowe itself. Parliamentary powers already exist for that expansion.
The latest information on the development is contained in the magazine Containerisation International, which 85 says that Sealink British Ferries has announced plans to expand its Harwich Parkeston quay terminal with the ambitious aim of transforming it into one of Europe's largest container ports by mid-1987. It will be based on considerable land reclamation. It will cater for the biggest deep sea vessels, and expand massively the deep sea container throughput. Given that the dock and railway company's case is doubtful anyway, when one considers the capacity being developed just across the water, what will happen? There will be excess capacity in East Anglia, a crippling price war and a gross waste of resources.
I should like to reply to one argument because it has been put to me so many times. Indeed, it has been brought up in the debate as a piece of new information. At the Labour party conference, I went to a presentation by Flexi Link. One of its props is European Ferries, the people promoting the Bill. At that meeting, there was a presentation of the reasons why the fixed link should not go ahead. The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, opposing the fixed link proposals, is already beginning to recognise how traffic will be affected. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan pointed out in his intervention, the whole passenger and freight picture in this country could be transformed. The Government said absolutely nothing about that in the earlier debate, so I hope that the Minister will put that new material into the framework of his remarks when he is good enough to comment on the debate.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
A great deal of the argument on Second Reading about extra traffic congestion being caused in East Anglia was based on the argument that ships which had come considerable distances to Europe would be off-loaded and the cargo sent on in smaller ships to other ports in Europe. Does my hon. Friend agree that if the fixed link were imposed it is likely that the majority of container cargo coming into Felixstowe would not go out again in smaller boats to Europe but would travel by road through East Anglia to the London basin and then through the fixed link at Dover? That would have far-reaching implications for congestion and the road network. We were told on Second Reading that congestion would not be a problem. but the new information shows that it may well be far more serious than was thought at that time.
§ Mr. Weetch
I accept the substance of my hon. Friend's intervention. The repercussions may well he as he describes. The substance of my argument is this. Without wishing to make predictions, the fixed link seems for the first time in my short political life to be a viable starter likely to attract private money and entrepreneurial initiative. The fixed link would put every port in the country, in East Anglia as much as anywhere else, in a completely new ball game. I do not agree that the situation outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is bound to occur because the whole situation is unpredictable, but I have read two stock market financial analyses of the prospects for European Ferries, both of which stated that the fixed link could be a major factor affecting the company's profitability.
All those factors will affect the Bill. All this new information — the statistical case, the fixed link and everything else—affect the argument in principle as to whether the Bill is necessary or not.
A constituency aspect is also affected. The argument involved is an insult to the intelligence of the people of 86 Ipswich, but it has been so widely put about that I must try to deal with it seriously. It is widely argued that there could never be any active commercial threat to Ipswich from Felixstowe because the ports are complementary and not competitive. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said that, in effect, there was no commercial rivalry because;Felixstowe would be handling ships of a draught which could not navigate the upper reaches of the river." — [Official Report, 13 May 1985; Vol. 79, c. 75.]In other words, there is no need to worry because large ships cannot use Ipswich anyway. But small ships can use Felixstowe. Ipswich is the number one port in the United Kingdom short sea container trade, but if there were pressure on the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company's profit margins—if times became hard and competitive and the situation looked black—let no one imagine for a moment that that company would not directly affect Ipswich. Anyone who believes that will believe anything. Is the company really saying that it will never encroach any further on the type of trade dealt with at Ipswich? No commercial concern could ever say that. If it was in difficulties, it would do exactly that.
The point was summed up on page 17 of the January 1985 issue of the trade magazine Cargo Systems International, which states thatif there is available capacity at Felixstowe, shipping lines will be tempted to stop there rather than carrying on another ten miles to reach Ipswich.I shall not take that constituency point any further. but the argument has been put so often that I had to deal with it.
New material on the environmental case has also emerged since the issue was last debated. On 20 August the Orwell estuary was formally notified as a site of special scientific interest under section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and a report of this appeared as an item on the agenda of Babergh district council planning committee. That was not the case when the Second Reading debate took place. A press report subsequent to the district council planning committee meeting conveyed some incomplete information, implying that only the south shore of the estuary had been notified as as SSSI. Today's debate gives me the opportunity to put on record that both banks have been notified, including the area proposed for the Felixstowe docks extension. If there is any doubt about that in anyone's mind the Nature Conservancy Council, which was responsible for the notification, will give full information.
The arguments adduced in the last debate for sweeping the whole environmental case under the carpet have been bitterly resented in some parts of East Anglia. It was argued that as only a small part of the estuary was involved there could not be much of a case. In fact, the site was selected by the Nature Conservancy Council after the most thorough scientific survey and evaluation. It is important to remember, too, that such designations are usually made because the areas concerned contain important concentrations of bird life.
In addition to being notified as a site of special scientific interest, the Orwell-Stour estuary has been put forward to the Department of the Environment as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention and as a special protection area for birds under an EEC directive of 1979.
Time and again in the last debate Conservative Members argued that the area to be taken for the port extension—Fagbury flats—was only a small part of the 87 estuary and therefore of little consequence environmentally. The hon. Member for Cambridge—I am not sure whether he is here today—reminded the House that at one time he had United Nations environmental responsibilities. In a nostalgic way, he said:The hon. Member for Ipswich may not be aware of the fact that I know the river well. I have sailed on it since I was a child. It is one for which I feel strongly. I also feel strongly about the local environment. To go as far as he did about a scheme which covers one third of a square mile and only half a mile of 22 miles of rather grotty shoreline is carrying argument a little too far.I see that the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) is here. I hope that after the debate he will take the hon. Member for Cambridge aside and explain that the shoreline is not regarded in East Anglia as "grotty". It is enormously valuable for all sorts of environmental reasons. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cambridge has not been to the area for some time, and needs reminding of this fact.
When the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds moved the Bill on 13 May, he said:First, the shoreline of the River Orwell is 22 miles long. The proposed extension covers half a mile of that shoreline—2.5 per cent. of the total area."—[Official Report, 13 May 1985; Vol. 79 c. 77–91].He went on to say that the area to be taken is only one-third of a square mile out of the total of 151 square miles.
That is an argument typical of people who talk about areas of international wildlife importance as though they are talking about percentages in a ledger. It is not surprising, because the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company works from ledgers, while others see the environmental problems. If the Bill is passed, everything that the company has said about protecting the environment will be conveniently forgotten.
The main environmental organisations in East Anglia are against the Bill to a man and a woman. They will believe that nothing that has been said in the first debate or the arguments that have come out since it has put them off their original environmental case. In fact, they have been strengthened in their determination.
In one breath, the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company is saying both that the area is not important because it is small in relation to the whole, and that it regards the area of such importance that it intends to plant 500,000 trees, and provide a bird count and so much enthusiasm that, by the sound of it, the company will be twining honeysuckle around the cranes. It is doing this to try to win some environmental respectability.
The debate has been valuable because it shows that the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company will say anything to get the Bill through the House, and that that will be conveniently forgotten. The environmental interests in East Anglia span all political persuasions. The people who have most strongly urged me to keep going have been card-carrying members of the Conservative party for nearly all their lives. I have told them that I shall gladly do that on their behalf. The Bill should not succeed and I sincerely hope that the House agrees with me.
§ Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)
I am sure that, by the end of my speech, less charitable Members will think that I have an enormous bias towards the port of Southampton. However, I have tried to approach this in 88 a logical and worthwhile manner. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) spoke several times about the environment, and the problems affecting it have not been given the same publicity as, for example, those affecting the bypass around Okehampton and Dartmoor. The environmental point has been let go by lack of argument. Later, I shall refer to some of the comments made by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
I am sure that my Government will be the first to support me in my logical commercial argument. Is it wise, when we are suffering from a lack of investment in industry and are trying to compete with overseas markets, to take a vast percentage of that investment money and put it into mud flats—against the environmental argument—to produce more container port capacity when there is over-capacity in the existing container ports?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must address himself to the motion before the House and not the motion that the Bill be given a Second Reading. That has been debated and decided on by the House. If the hon. Gentleman were to advance the argument that there are now factors that could not have been known when the House made that decision, and that might have affected that decision, that would be in order. However, it is not in order to rehearse arguments or to make new ones about Second Reading.
§ Mr. Hill
Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The new facts emerged in the speech of the hon. Member for Ipswich, who spoke about the new European link. I remember when the proceedings on the Channel tunnel were stopped by the then Secretary of State for the Environment in the Labour Government, the late Mr. Crosland. I had written a document about the bridges and tunnels of Europe, in which I proved conclusively what an enormous effect a Channel tunnel would have, even then, before we had got into the container age that exists in the seaports now.
There is no doubt that if the Euro-link goes ahead in any form it will act as a magnet for container traffic. We are talking in the main about container traffic. It would be subterfuge by the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company to pretend that it is interested in devising another port for all types of user. It is merely aiming at the substantial market. With China about to emerge as a world industrial giant and with Taiwan and Japan flooding the United Kingdom and the European seaboard with containers, the company's sole motive is to concentrate on profit through containers.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I find it difficult to relate the hon. Gentleman's argument, interesting though it is, to the debate about whether the Bill should be carried over into the next Session. The hon. Gentleman must address himself more closely to the terms of the motion.
§ Mr. Hill
I suppose that I am becoming over-eager on the subject. When it was debated on 13 May, because of parliamentary commitments I was unable to attend the debate. However, I know that that will be no argument for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although, naturally, it tempts me to drift into other subjects from time to time.
The European link will have a great effect and the statistics that will be available if the debate is held over will benefit all political parties. I particularly fear that the job protection statistics have not been gone into with the 89 latest figures in mind. There has been a terrific change in seaports policy since May. For example, the statistics for Southampton are quite different from those in May. The port is now humming with work, and it has an anxious labour force which is viewing the debate with concern because it fears that the real statistics of job protection have not been analysed. It is not only a question of job creation. There will be job losses throughout the United Kingdom, some of them in the worst affected parts of the country.
The difficulty in arguing the case for more statistics is that they can be swayed one way or another, depending upon the attitude of the debater. The statistics which have been produced by the environmentalists, certainly by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, should be closely analysed. We can see this evening the lack of attention that is being paid to this private Bill, so its Second Reading may have been passed by the House almost by default. There may not have been a full analysis of the figures. It may not therefore have been possible to weigh the pros and cons——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. No matter for what reason, the fact is that the House has debated the Second Reading of the Bill and has come to a decision upon it by granting it a Second Reading. We cannot have a postmortem upon it now.
§ Mr. Hill
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for putting me back once again on the rails. Perhaps the recess has made my steering gear a little rusty. I fully take your point. I have raised the subject many times. I wonder whether private Bills would not have to be introduced if there were a United Kingdom ports policy. I have asked for such a policy dozens and dozens of times. Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has, with great courtesy, said that there is no time next week for such a debate to take place. If we were to be given an opportunity to discuss the Bill more thoroughly, could it not be combined with an appraisal of ports policy? Felixstowe is to be given more capacity——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That is not the issue before the House. The issue is whether this Bill, to which the House has given a Second Reading, should be allowed to be continued in the next Session of this Parliament. We are not discussing the merits of the Bill.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether the people of Southampton petitioned against the Bill? I suspect that they did not do so because they did not understand its ramifications when the Bill was presented last autumn. If the motion were to be defeated, the Bill would have to start again and the hon. Gentleman's constituents would have an opportunity to present a petition. If the hon. Gentleman were to develop the argument about extending the rights of petitioners, he might be on safe ground.
§ Mr. Hill
I am getting advice from all sides. This is the true comradeship of the House. I said earlier that I thought that the Bill had not received full scrutiny before it obtained its Second Reading. I do not believe that some of the ports that will be jeopardised by the Bill were able to get their statistics, facts and petitions together in time for a thorough-going debate on Second Reading. The small points that I am raising tonight inevitably mean that the Bill should be carried over into the next Session of Parliament.
90 May I now deal with the statement that I have received from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The area in question has recently been notified as a site of special scientific interest. That was not so previously. This matter should be discussed in more detail. The proposed development also encroaches upon an area of outstanding natural beauty. To hardhearted Members of Parliament these points may seem of little consequence, but in Japan environmental problems are now so great that they wish that they had considered the protection of the environment instead of indulging in a Gaderene rush to develop industry in order to compete with the rest of the world. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds would want to provide more facts and to involve more learned people in listening to and lobbying the Committee. That is why we must not be seen to be rushing through something upon which the fulcrum of a ports policy would depend. We would be the first to be accused of acting as vandals. Job projections are suspect and the House must discuss them more deeply.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your consideration——
§ Mr. Stott
As the hon. Gentleman is reaching the end of his contribution, may I say that I agree with every word that he has spoken this evening, but why on Second Reading did he not vote for or against the Bill, while the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen, (Mr. Chope) voted in favour of the Bill?
§ Mr. Hill
I said earlier that I was away on parliamentary business. I take great interest in the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. Although we are rightly paired with Labour Members of Parliament, it is not always possible to be in the House for every vote. The debate was underplayed. There was no great unrest about it in my constituency, but there is now a great volume of protest. My constituents feel, as I do, that there has been insufficient discussion of the new statistics.
If the Bill is carried over into the next Session, democracy will have been served this evening. One has to take into account the environmental considerations, the various statistics, the effect of the Euro-link and several other points with which I shall not weary the House. I do not know whether they will be accepted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Mr. Mitchell), in whom I have great faith on ports policy and shipping matters. If, however, I do not receive satisfaction this evening and there is a vote, I shall be forced to vote against the motion.
§ 8.8 pm
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
The question to which we ought to address ourselves tonight is whether we should agree to this carry-over motion or to any other carry-over motions on Bills of this type. It will encourage a different approach to legislation if it should become common practice for the House of Commons to agree to carry-over motions. The Government have to get through their legislation in one Session of Parliament, which imposes a considerable discipline upon them. It also gives the Opposition an opportunity to ensure that there is a good debate and sometimes to extract concessions so that the legislation may be passed in one Session. It also means that the general public know that there is a 12-month period—sometimes longer if a parliamentary Session is 91 extended—during which a Bill is being debated and is likely to be changed. However, under a carry-over motion that discipline disappears. Proposals can be changed without people being certain of how they affect them.
In recent years, more and more legislation of this type has been carried over. Sometimes legislation has been carried over to a third Session of Parliament. That is undesirable. The Government have to complete their legislation in one Session. Back Benchers who introduce private Members' Bills have to succeed within one Session if they do not want to lose their proposed legislation. That imposes an effective discipline. However, private legislation can be carried forward from one Session to the next.
I understand the argument that private legislation is not the same as other parliamentary business. Petitioners might have to engage people to speak on their behalf, and Committee proceedings can take a long time. On some occasions the promoters will have done everything possible to speed up a Bill's progress. They will have met objectors, tried to reach compromises and suddenly a general election will intervene. In such circumstances, there is an argument for such a motion. However, in this case the promoters had 12 months to make progress with their Bill. So far the Bill has received only its Second Reading.
A Committee was appointed, but one of its members had an interest and was declared ineligible to serve. So far the promoters have not become involved in the expense of acting upon petitions. The promoters have made little attempt to make progress. On the whole, they have brushed aside the objectors or ignored them. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) described what happened when he asked for information. He was told that since he was against the Bill the promoters wanted nothing to do with him.
If we are to continue with the private Bill procedure, we should impose the same discipline on the promoters as we impose upon ourselves. They should aim to put their Bills through in one parliamentary Session.
We must consider what are suitable measures for private legislation. In the past, the House spent more time on private legislation than it does today. Canal, turnpike and railway measures took up more time than public business. Even then the promoters were expected to make concessions to get their legislation through the House in a reasonably short time.
The Manchester ship canal was the subject of a private Bill which was presented to the House on three occasions last century. Each time the aim was to put it through in one Session. There was no question of a carry-over motion. Each time the promoters sought concessions, in spite of considerable opposition from the port of Liverpool to the idea of Manchester having its own canal and port. In the end, a Bill was passed within one Session. If that was reasonable then, we should today examine carry-over motions carefully. In recent years the House has often approved such motions on the nod.
If we are to continue to allow private Bills, we must ensure that they are not controversial. There should be a reasonable opportunity for give and take between all the parties concerned so that a compromise can be arrived at. We should question whether the private Bill procedure is acceptable for controversial measures. If the House refuses 92 to grant carry-over motions automatically, people will begin to consider whether we should establish a more effective procedure.
Last century there was no procedure for major planning inquiries. We now have such a procedure. We hold planning inquiries into major proposals. For example, an inquiry was held into the proposals for the development of Stansted, taking into account their implications for airports policy.
In this case, it would have been better if a planning application had been called in by the Minister and a major planning inquiry held into whether the proposed facilities were required. That would have given an opportunity for all the issues to be aired. An inspector would have taken evidence from all the interested groups, whether from individuals representing themselves or being represented legally. They would have had an opportunity to ask questions. The inspector would have listened to all the evidence and prepared a detailed report for the Secretary of State, who would have issued a decision, and if the House disagreed it would have been given an opportunity to debate the matter. In theory, there would have been an opportunity for the House to reach a different conclusion from that reached by the Secretary of State.
The promoters chose not to go through that procedure and they have denied many people the opportunity of making known their objections. The private Bill procedure is not widely understood. Perhaps that is because so many major decisions have been the result of a planning inquiry instead of the archaic private Bill procedure.
The promoters have to advertise their Bill in the locality which in their view is affected. That would be acceptable in this case if the objectors came only from the Felixstowe area. It is not easy to advertise the proposals in Southampton, for instance, or in all the other areas with ports which might lose out as a result of the Bill. The Bill might be well publicised locally, but it might not be advertised in other affected areas.
The small group of parliamentary agents and those who retain them scrutinise such Bills carefully. We are fortunate that groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds notice when such legislation is proposed and alert other environmental bodies. However, I suspect that the dock workers were not alerted to the proposals at a time when they might have submitted petitions. They found out about the Bill through publicity following the Second Reading. If a planning inquiry had taken place, they would have had more opportunity to find out about the Bill and to petition against it.
I tabled an amendment which was not selected. It attempted to allow new petitions to be submitted even at this late stage. I understand that the Committee will have a discretion to hear new arguments. I hope that if the Bill reaches the Committee hon. Members on the Committee will be generous and will allow people to put forward their views. The simple solution would be to throw out the Bill. The promoters might then consider a planning application rather than a private Bill. That would make it easier for the many people concerned about the legislation to petition. I accept that there is still a limited opportunity to petition because the Bill must go to the other place. However, there are problems with petitions.
The private Bill procedure does not ensure that all those entitled to know about it and its implications are so informed. Unless people petition at the beginning of the procedure, their opportunity to make representations is 93 very limited. The Bill has a Second Reading, which, by tradition, tends to last three hours. When this Bill was debated, many of those who wanted to argue against it were unable to do so and a closure motion was obtained at 10 o'clock.
We must carefully consider the procedures of the House. Last century, when large numbers of private Members' Bills were introduced, there may have been Members of Parliament with little to do who could afford the time to sit, almost like a judicial committee, for several weeks, hearing the evidence and weighing up the case of the promoters and the objections of the petitioners. Whenever I have spoken to people about serving on a private Bill Committee, I have found them concerned about what that involves. It is said that one of the powers of the Whips is to apply pressure on an individual Member to serve on a private Bill Committee as a punishment. It is a fairly onerous duty. The folklore of the House is that if a Member does not turn up to a Committee sitting he can be fined. Of course, that is not really the correct procedure. I understand that the Chairman of the Committee is entitled to report such a case to Mr. Speaker and that it is for the House to decide whether he should be fined. However, that is an indication that the House considers it a serious matter if an individual does not turn up at Committee sittings.
It may take several weeks to hear the evidence and weigh the arguments of the promoters and the petitioners. That is a great imposition on any Member of Parliament who has considerable constituency commitments and other commitments to debating public legislation.
One of the conditions for serving on a private Bill Committee is that an hon. Member should not have the remotest knowledge of or interest in the matter under debate, because if he had he might be partial.
Traditionally, there are four Members on a Committee. The implication is that they will try to arrive at a consensus. If two people vote in favour and two against, it is not easy to arrive at a conclusion. I know that under Standing Orders the Chairman has a casting vote, but there is a feeling that it would not be in the best interests for the Chairman to cast a vote and for the legislation to continue on the basis of a three-two vote.
The procedure is designed to produce a Bill where there is consensus, and where the promoters will have been able to meet the petitioners on various matters. If we are to achieve as full a debate by this procedure as we would through a public inquiry, we must place an onerous task on the four Committee Members to spend a long time in Committee listening to all the arguments.
With this Bill, there would be many environmental arguments—for example, the damage to the estuary and the fact that the wildfowl would lose a substantial part of their habitat. There could also be an argument about docks policy, and the fact that the Government do not actually have one. That would take a long time. There could be an argument about the implications of taking jobs away from Tilbury, Southampton or other ports and moving them to Felixstowe. That is a controversial issue.
There is, of course, the question of the fixed Channel link and the consequences for our ports. If Southampton were to lose a great deal of its trade to Europe, it would be tempted to compensate for that by competing for the trade that Felixstowe claims it is seeking through the proposed development. It would be easy for ships coming from many parts of the world to dock at Southampton and 94 the containers then to go by road to Europe, using the fixed link. Such arguments could be developed at considerable length.
Which four Members would really be happy to sit on a Committee listening to evidence week after week, and then have to arrive at what is virtually a judicial decision? This is not the sort of procedure ideally suited to such a proposal. We should choose the alternative procedure of a public inquiry, which would involve people with expert knowledge and provide an opportunity for people to put their evidence in a more satisfactory manner.
When a private Bill has completed its Committee stage—assuming that the Committee believes that it should go forward—it returns to the House for another short debate on Report. The Report stage is not a suitable opportunity to air the basic principles. We have had unfortunate debates on narrow, procedural issues rather than on the meat of the Bill. The Bill then moves to Third Reading.
The scope for amendment is a problem. If there is a public inquiry, an inspector can make a series of recommendations, which can range over a wide area, and the Minister can either issue instructions that embody those recommendations or he can overturn them. However, the private Bill procedure provides that at all stages the scope of the Bill must be narrowed rather than extended. In theory, that is to protect the rights of the petitioners, because if the scope were extended someone might feel that had he known that it would be so extended he would have wished to petition.
If, in Committee, someone suggested that the Bill should have added to it a clause saying that if the fixed Channel link was built the Bill should be regarded as null and void, that would provide a simple precaution. When the Bill was first put forward there was little realistic possibility of a fixed Channel link, but it now appears that it is a more likely prospect. The conditions under which the House gave the Bill a Second Reading, and under which people prepared their petitions, would be altered if, when the Bill left the Committee, there was a clear Government decision on the fixed link. It would be reasonable to include an amendment to say that once construction of a fixed link had begun the powers in the Bill should lapse. Because of the parliamentary convention that legislation must become narrower and not be extended, I suspect that such an amendment would not find favour. Therefore, I believe there to be considerable problems with this system.
It would be far better to throw out the Bill and force the promoters to start again. That would not impose any major financial problem, because the Bill has made little progress. If they did not wish to start again, they could drop the Bill and use the alternative procedure of a planning application, which would ensure that, in due course, there would be a public inquiry. If they do not do that, there will be many problems for petitioners and would-be petitioners. It is a pity that the amendment has not been selected, because it would have enabled people to have their objections heard at the next stage.
I am increasingly dissatisfied with the private Bill procedure, in view of the time of hon. Members that it occupies. Indeed, I have heard hon. Members serving on such Committees say that if only the lawyers representing the various petitioners got on with their case more quickly they would be more sympathetic to the arguments. I have some sympathy with that view, but is it a satisfactory way 95 to consider petitions? After all, from the objectors' point of view the arguments being adduced on their behalf are extremely important.
We should, therefore, defeat the proposed carry-over motion and oblige the promoters to return to a public inquiry. They would then have to debate whether the measure was necessary or whether we already had a surplus of port facilities for containers, meaning that it would not be in the national interest to have further capacity. I argue that it is more in the national interest to protect a major estuary that is a natural habitat for waders and wildfowl. Let us retain this area of outstanding natural beauty.
I remind the House that the attraction of an area such as this is its wilderness nature. Once a large container port is established, even if trees and other environmental characteristics are placed round it, the nature of a wide area is changed. I suspect—my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich could tell me—that this development will involve floodlighting at night, enabling 24-hour operation of the facility. That would extend the effects on the area even further. It would be unfortunate if we exchanged attractive mud flats for unused concrete hardstanding, especially if unused capacity exists elsewhere.
A proper public inquiry would also enable those concerned to examine the traffic effects of the development. If a fixed Channel link is built, we shall have to consider not only the traffic effects on East Anglia, but the implications for the Dartford tunnel and the road links down to the point at which the fixed link crosses the Channel. Those issues would be better debated at a public inquiry, where all the implications — including the possibility of a second Channel tunnel — could be considered.
At a public inquiry, full consideration could be given to the impact on competitor ports. For example, how far would the development draw trade away from Tilbury and Southampton, and how far would it affect ports to the north of Felixstowe all along the East Anglian coast right up to Humberside?
A public inquiry would have the opportunity to consider the likely future demand for containers. There is considerable evidence to show that many goods are now being transported in smaller volumes. As trade develops in, say, the coming 20 years, volumes may reduce, meaning that fewer containers will be required. Such arguments could be examined closely at a public inquiry. Another important aspect which an inquiry could consider is how far existing dock facilities are being utilised and what could be done to increase their use, at Felixstowe and elsewhere.
For those reasons, the House should be unwilling automatically to grant carry-over motions of this type. Bills should not be allowed to meander through Parliament, with the public tending to lose track of what is happening and having fewer opportunities to voice their feelings.
If we are to retain the private Bill procedure, it should exist only for Bills which have a wide measure of consensus. In those circumstances the promoters, knowing that they can achieve a wide measure of consensus, have a realistic opportunity of getting their measure through in one Session of Parliament.
96 Hon. Members should also examine carefully the environmental issues that are involved. We read in the press during the recess that the Government had suddenly become concerned about the "green" issue. The trouble with their concern is that all their actions point in the opposite direction. For example, we were told of the Government's great concern for the national parks. Then the Secretary of State for Transport announced during the recess not only that he intended to build a bypass through the national park at Okehampton, but that he envisaged getting the necessary legislation through almost on the nod. That does not demonstrate the Government's concern for the "green" issue.
We have seen the way in which the chairman of the Conservative party is willing to whip his Back-Benchers through the House to achieve legislation. I suspect that tonight, although a few hon. Members who are concerned with retaining the natural habitat have come to hear the debate, the payroll vote, the lobbying by Trinity college, which stands to make a great deal of money out of the development of this land, and various other financial interests, will result in Conservative Members voting for the motion. That will prove how little the Conservative party cares for the "green" issue. Its philosophy is that if, by destroying a bit of Britain, somebody can make a profit, that is all right.
In view of the remarks that I have made about the procedures of the House and the need for hon. Members more frequently to protect the habitat and the natural environment, I hope that the motion will be defeated.
§ Mr. Tim Yeo (Suffolk, South)
I regret the need for this debate. I felt that the issue could have been resolved at 7 o'clock without a debate or a Division. The discussion has been occupied largely by the hon. Members for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch), both of whom spoke at some length. I shall respond more briefly to the points that they raised.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) was in his place earlier. Felixstowe is in his constituency and he has shown a close interest in the progress of the Bill. He has been a consistent supporter of it and it is a source of regret to him and to me that he is prevented by virtue of the high office that he holds from taking part in the debate tonight. However, there is no question but that he shares my view that Felixstowe and the prosperity and expansion of the town is of the greatest importance to our constituents, to East Anglia as a whole and to the people of many other constituencies.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) was the promoter of the Bill. He is presently elsewhere on what I believe to be parliamentary business. However, I understand that he hopes to reach the House before the conclusion of the debate.
I strongly support the carry-over motion and there seems to be no reason to withhold it. I regret the speech of the hon. Member for Ipswich, which was completely unworthy of him. His record inside and outside the House led me to expect rather better things from him.
It is noteworthy that no representatives of the Liberal party or the Social Democratic party are in their places. That is exactly what happened on Second Reading. Very few of their number voted in the Division when the Question was put on Second Reading despite their professed concern for unemployment, which is clearly one 97 of the issues at stake. They tell us also that they are concerned about "green" issues and infrastructure, but they are unable to muster any attendance for this debate. It should be said that after the debate had started a couple of Liberal Members entered the Chamber, occupied their places, spent a few minutes chatting to each other, looked around and apparently realised that they had come for a different debate. They have not remained with us. Perhaps their presence was some sort of hangover of enthusiasm from their conference.
I have heard nothing during the course of the debate which makes me believe that the Bill should not enjoy the facilities which I understand are normally made available to other private Bills at this stage in their parliamentary progress.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
How many Bills have received the consent of the House to carry over into the next Session which have not proceeded into Committee in the Session in which they were introduced?
§ Mr. Yeo
I do not have the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question but I consider it to be a rather specious one. He knows as well as everyone else why the Bill did not proceed into Committee. We know that it would have done so in normal circumstances.
Second Reading took place on 13 May and the argument was won overwhelmingly by the Bill's supporters, as was the subsequent Division. It was an extremely good Second Reading debate and all the relevant issues were aired at length. Unfortunately, the arguments of the hon. Member for Ipswich on Second Reading were as specious as his so-called new arguments this evening. He referred to the existence of so-called new material which he explained he wished to introduce into the debate. It became increasingly apparent as his speech continued that he had no new material. That is not surprising because we have had ample opportunity to examine the issues previously. He repeated some of the same unsubstantiated assertions about navigational and environmental concerns, all of which have been fully explored in the past and answered fully by the Felixstowe company.
§ Mr. Bennett
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how he and the promoters envisage getting the undertakings on navigation rights worked into legislation?
§ Mr. Yeo
I believe that the hon. Gentleman has made a Committee point and not one that should be introduced into this debate. He is seeking to deal with a detailed matter and I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to detain the House on that sort of issue. We are here to debate whether the carry-over motion should be accepted by the House.
§ Mr. Stott
The hon. Gentleman has accused my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) of making unsubstantiated assertions. In fact, my hon. Friend has made no assertions in this context and his remarks certainly cannot be described as unsubstantiated. In August the Suffolk Coastal authority declared, together with another body, that the area of estuarial water with which we are concerned should be a site of special scientific interest. That is a fact of life and not an assertion. It is new evidence, which my hon. Friend has brought to light. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would moderate his language when attacking my hon. Friend and accusing him of making unsubstantiated assertions.
§ Mr. Yeo
The hon. Gentleman has raised a different point from the one advanced by his hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish. What he says about the site being designated as one of special scientific interest is true. I believe that the assurances that were given on Second Reading on behalf of the Felixstowe company were entirely adequate to satisfy those who are concerned about the possible environmental damage caused by the extension of the port. I believe that the environment will be enhanced by the programe of tree-planting and the other measures that the company is proposing to take to preserve the environmental advantages of the area.
The hon. Member for Ipswich spoke at some length about job creation, an issue that is central to the entire proposal. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was genuine in his concern for unemployment and I am surprised that he should now resort to contorted arguments to try to persuade himself that the Bill will not create many new jobs. There may be some variations in the estimates of the number of jobs that we shall gain, but I believe the estimate of 2,500 to be a reasonable working assumption of long-term job creation. However, there will be many indirect spin-offs which may spread into other constituencies as improved infrastructure encourages firms to locate their businesses in places that were previously not attractive.
The House and the voters of Ipswich and Suffclk as a whole should know that the hon. Member for Ipswich is so desperate in his opposition to this measure that he is resorting to obscure procedural devices in his untiring efforts to eliminate jobs from the areas surrounding his own constituency, including Felixstowe and the other nearby ports of Suffolk. The hon. Gentleman referred to the possibility of jobs being switched from one port to another and I accept that that is a possibility. Jobs could be transferred from one port to another if the Bill is not enacted. They could be transferred from British ports to continental ports, such as Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Those of us who support the Bill and the carry-over motion are anxious to prevent the destruction of job opportunities.
I am sad that the hon. Member for Ipswich and his hon. Friends should want to promote the export of jobs from Britain to the continent, but I am not surprised. It was the Labour Government, who were supported for almost two years by the absent members of the Liberal party, who introduced policies that were designed precisely to export jobs from Britain. The implementation of their policies achieved that unfortunate result with remarkable success.
The hon. Member for Ipswich talked about support for his arguments. He told us that he had received support from the Transport and General Workers Union nationally and at eastern regional level. He acknowledged that the group that knows more about the issue than anyone else — the members of the TGWU who work at Felixstowe, who are ably led by their chief shop steward, who has spent much time considering the merits of the proposal — is in support of the Bill. Once again we see the jackboot of national union leadership being used to grind the wishes of rank-and-file members on the spot into the dust. After all that has happened in the past two years, we might have thought that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends had reached some different conclusions. The conclusion could have been that local union membership opinion was worth listening to in proposals of this sort.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I accept that the hon. Gentleman can put the case for the Felixstowe docks. Surely he will accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) put the feelings of the rank and file Ipswich dockers.
§ Mr. Yeo
I merely said that I believed that the members of the TGWU at Felixstowe probably know a fair bit about this proposal and that their views are worth taking into account. I shall certainly take those views into account, even if Labour Members will not.
The fixed link was another item of so-called new material that the hon. Member for Ipswich introduced into the debate. I prefer to call the fixed link the Channel tunnel because fixed link seems to be an absurd bit of jargon. Even if half the construction will be a bridge there will still be a tunnel in the middle. Most people understand more clearly what one means when one refers to the Channel tunnel rather than the fixed link.
It appears from the speeches of the hon. Members for Ipswich and for Denton and Reddish that they will support the proposal for the fixed link. We have had an interesting preview of their attitude. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Ipswich consulted union members who work at Dover harbour, but that is just speculation. I believe that the question of the Channel tunnel is not of great relevance to this issue. It is for the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company to weigh up the commercial risks and the prospects for the proposed expansion. It is difficult to determine the effects of the Channel tunnel on the future of Felixstowe docks. We are speculating about developments that will not be fully operational for 10, 15 or 20 years. It is not for us to determine those effects; it is for the directors of the company to weigh up the commercial risks.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Opposition will drag up any reason or excuse, however irrelevant, to delay the passage of the Bill which is so badly needed to create jobs and make progress in East Anglia?
§ Mr. Yeo
My hon. Friend has put his finger on the point. We are subjected to many arguments of the most peripheral kind and of tangential relevance to this debate.
Reference has been made to the implications for road networks, traffic levels, and so on. I believe that those factors have been taken largely into account. The A45 is a road of high standard, which does not as yet carry an excessive amount of traffic. The House has already approved the A1/M1 link which will be of material value to Felixstowe, industries in the midlands and some constituencies in between. By the end of next year the Chelmsford bypass will be operating. This project is specially dear to the hearts of those people who, like me, frequently drive up and down the A12.
The environmental issue, which was raised earlier in this debate, was explored in great detail on Second Reading, and I cannot add much to that. I am satisfied that the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company will take action to protect the environment from unnecessary damage. I am personally concerned with this because my home is in a village called East Bergholt which is only a few miles from Felixstowe on the other side of the estuary. Many of my constituents have spoken to me about this proposal. Many have contacted the company and received constructive responses. The area is beautiful and it is 100 important for us to ensure that it is not diminished as an attraction. The tourist business that we attract to East Anglia and Suffolk is important to us.
Some of the arguments that were introduced into the debate by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish were particularly specious. I acknowledge that he at least tried to address some constitutional aspects. He knows why the Bill has not been able to progress. He appeared to want to overturn a normal procedure. Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman had paid close attention to the hon. Member for Ipswich he would have heard his colleague acknowledge that in initiating the debate he was doing something out of the ordinary in parliamentary terms. It would not be right to conclude that this debate could be used to establish a new precedent for proceeding with private Members' Bills. There is no merit in the suggestion of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish that a public inquiry should be held. These issues have been adequately debated already. There will be further opportunities in Committee to debate some matters further, assuming that this carry-over motion is passed.
I shall refer to two items of new material that have become available since 13 May. The first is the change in the unemployment figures in Suffolk. New information leads me to believe even more strongly than I did on 13 May that the jobs that would be created if the dock were expanded as proposed are even more important now than they were five months ago. A second item of new material that has become available since 13 May is the improvement in British export prospects because of the movements in sterling. The pound is now much stronger against the dollar, resulting in lower costs for most of the raw materials imported to Britain by manufacturing industry. The pound is now slightly weaker against European currencies such as the deutschemark, making our exports of manufactured goods even more competitive. Those points reinforce the need for the House to approve this motion.
On 13 May the House gave the Bill a Second Reading by a substantial majority after a debate in which the Bill's supporters had the best of the argument. I firmly believe that the Bill should be carried over in the normal way, and I therefore urge the House to approve the motion.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
I wish to declare an interest in that I am a member of the Transport and General Workers Union docks and waterways section. I do not believe that it would be right to carry over this Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has given many reasons for that. The House should be aware of the wide-ranging implications that carrying over the Bill would have. My hon. Friend has put the constitutional points. The House has failed to recognise that the Bill has wider ramifications than those given consideration on Second Reading.
One of the things that I learnt in the port transport industry was that there is no way of predicting the outcome on the river of a construction in a tidal estuary. Despite what has been said by Conservative Members, I have seen no evidence of that. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) mentioned on Second Reading how much hydrographical research had been done into the feasibility of the extension of the port. He was not challenged when he said that he had heard little about any feasibility studies carried out by the port authority.
101 There were at least two years', if not more, research carried out on tidal and current effects, siltation and other matters that would affect the meandering of the tidal estuary as a result of the construction of the new dock at Liverpool. There is no way in which we can predict the outcome of such a construction.
There is no evidence of any in-depth examination at Felixstowe. That leads people to wonder whether the port authority is throwing itself in at the deep end with the extension of the port at Felixstowe.
I do not believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich has been arguing the case merely on behalf of his constituents. In this place it is right for hon. Members to argue a case for their constituency and in the interests of their constituents. He has pointed out that the proposal would affect not only the port immediately adjacent to Felixstowe but other United Kingdom ports. We have already had massive evidence of the effects changes in the pattern of the port transport industry have had on regional economies especially in the north, north-west and Scotland. We have seen changes that have caused once major ports such as Liverpool, Manchester and the other northern ports to play a minor role. We should all recognise that changes in the port transport industry cannot be seen in isolation. We should not examine one port only and make a case for the extension of that port, because the extension can only be to the detriment of other ports and regions.
I do not believe that sufficient information about the consequences of the proposed change on other ports and regional economies has been given to the House. The Government have failed completely to recognise that the decline that is taking place in some parts of the country is related in many instances to the decline in the port industries.
§ Mr. John Powley (Norwich, South)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the demise in some of the ports to which he has referred is due largely to bad management practices, bad labour relations, high labour costs and a low turnover in those ports? We wish our ports to achieve the higher efficiency, lower handling costs and greater efficiency in the use of manpower that is evident in Felixstowe at the moment and in several of our other ports, and which has resulted in the changes he has outlined.
§ Mr. Loyden
I do not accept that. Prosperity in this country was due largely to the major ports. The nation's wealth was based upon ports such as Liverpool, Manchester, the north-eastern ports, Southampton, Bristol and others. It is nonsense to argue that they were not successful in the past.
We accept that technological change and different methods of handling cargo need changes in the composition and layout of ports. At the same time, we have been faced with the movement away from some regions and into others. That has been to the detriment of some ports and regions. I do not want to block prospects for more work in Felixstowe, but I do not wish to see an expansion of work in Felixstowe at the expense of another part of the country. We are not talking about a real increase in jobs. We are talking about the movement of work from one part of the country to another.
One of the important points missed on Second Reading, which gives grounds for at least an inquiry into Felixstowe, is the fact that the Government have continued 102 to give benefits to non-scheme ports as a way of allowing scheme ports to wither on the vine. That has been the intention of this Government from the beginning and that is why they support the expansion of the non-scheme ports. That will be done because the Government want to see an end to the National Dock Labour Board scheme and that can be done by extending the non-scheme ports at the expense of the scheme ports. That has clearly been the intention of the Government from the beginning and has wider implications for the whole of the port transport industry and on any planning that may take place in future. There is no evidence that that is taking place at the moment. The Government saw fit to remove the only constraints we had upon planning for the port transport industry when they amended the Harbours Act.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that if the result of the Bill passing in the next Session is an increase in exports and therefore an increase in national wealth, then, as surely as night follows day, this will lead to an overall increase in jobs for this country and for East Anglia in particular? That must be good not only for our region but for the nation.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Hon. Members are beginning to stray a bit. We are dealing with the carryover motion and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address his remarks to that.
§ Mr. Loyden
The intervention was moving away from the point. The point that I am making is that the implications of this Bill are wide-reaching and should not be carried over. I am trying to develop the argument about the wider implications. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich argued the case about the adjacent ports, but it is not only the adjacent ports that are affected because other ports in the United Kingdom will be affected and the whole question of any comprehensive plan about the port transport industry will be directly affected by the development not only of Felixstowe, but of the others which will be in the pipeline once this Bill goes through.
There are wide ramifications for the port transport industry and they have been dealt with by my hon. Friends in some detail. The House must recognise the case for the environment. That case has been fully put by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich and it is not something that is confined to those people immediately adjacent to the environment that can be despoiled by this development. That piece of environment belongs to us all and we have seen the growing interest by the people in their environment, particularly when they see more and more of it being destroyed.
We are now conscious of the fact that we have to do all we can to preserve those bits of environment that still remain intact, areas which are things of beauty and places where people can take their leisure. That is not a matter for the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Board to consider. It is a matter that affects people throughout the country, who are concerned about the future of their environment. This is proven by the fact that environmentalists are having a greater say in the political direction in which Governments are going.
This Bill does not confine itself to the effects it will have either on the port industry in that area or the environment. This Bill will have a direct effect upon the port transport industry in the widest possible sense. In the post-war period I have seen in the port of Liverpool a 103 decline which was partly due to technological change or to the changing pattern in the method of cargo handling. It was mainly due to the development and operation of non-scheme ports and the effect that our entry into the European Community had on those ports. In that sense the port was central to the economy of that area and it is a matter of grave importance to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, which is the port authority, when it sees the possibility of its trade being further taken away by the development of ports on the south coast, particularly non-scheme ports.
The Bill should not be carried over. There should be a much closer examination of all the implications that would flow from the passing of the Bill. It would open the floodgates for further applications, because the restrictions would have been lifted and not only northern ports but those on the south-west coast and others would be affected.
The implications are wide and the House would do well to think carefully about the Bill. It would be an abuse of our procedures if the measure were carried over. It will have serious implications for the industry and the country generally and could deal a death blow to ports such as Liverpool. I ask my hon. Friends to oppose the carry-over motion.
§ Mr. Christopher Chope (Southampton, Itchen)
Before explaining why I have grave reservations about the motion, I should tell the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) that I did not vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. I abstained because I felt that this was a Bill to promote free and fair competition, but on the basis of what has happened since Second Reading I am worried about whether it really is free and fair competition.
The motion would prevent any new petitioners arguing against the Bill. That would be a grave step. Since Second Reading, a number of people have concluded that they should have petitioned against the Bill. If the Bill had got through in this Session, they could not have complained — they would have missed their opportunity — but it would be unusual for the House to give leave to promoters of a private Bill to have it carried over to the next Session, particularly when there has been no intervening general election and when the Bill has not even been considered in Committee.
This is undoubtedly a controversial Bill. It is not urgent, and major developments in the British docks industry since Second Reading have implications for the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) said on Second Reading that the Bill was necessary because many shipowners wished to use east coast ports and some had refused to use ports such as Southampton because of their disastrous industrial relations record.
Since then, Southampton has demonstrated that it has put its house in order. Many of the stop stewards who have helped to bring about the changes there are in the Public Gallery for this debate. Unit costs at Southampton have been reduced substantially — from about £110 per container to about £70. At that figure, the port was attracting business away from Felixstowe. The evidence is that Felixstowe is having great difficulty in finding customers for its new Trinity terminal.
104 Paragraph 2 of the original statement by the promoters in support of the Bill said:existing facilities in Felixstowe are barely sufficient to meet the current needs of port users and by mid-1986 the Port of Felixstowe will have completed its growth within its present limits. Further expansion will only be possible after that year if the Bill is enacted.However, information provided for me today by shop stewards from Southampton shows that the situation in Felixstowe is so desperate that, far from existing users saying that there is insufficient capacity, the port is short of users and is prepared to approach Trio and Saecs, the two main users that keep Southampton going. The port of Felixstowe has come to those two customers and is threatening to undercut the prices substantially. I believe that a figure of something like £50 per container has recently been mentioned.
There is no way in which any large container port in Europe can operate on that sort of basis, and there is certainly no way in which any container port in this country can do so if it is playing fair. My fear is that the port of Felixstowe is trying to create a private monopoly for itself. On the basis of the information that I have been given, what is contained in paragraph 2 of the promoters' statement—whether it was true at the time, I would not like to judge, but certainly on the basis of recent evidence — it needs to be closely examined. The opportunity should be given for more people to come forward to petition against the Bill, to try to examine that allegation further.
The port of Southampton is now viable, but if it loses the business that Felixstowe now threatens to take from it there will effectively be only one major container port in this country. In my submission, that would be in neither the national interest nor the local, particularly in Southampton. It is pretty galling when a group of people who have made the sort of sacrifices that many of my constituents in Southampton have made find that they are threatened in the way that now seems likely.
The attitude of the Transport and General Workers Union on this is not one that I wholly endorse because, on the one hand, the local TGWU in Felixstowe is saying that it is heartily in favour of this whilst, on the other, some members of the TGWU national committee, as I understand it, are threatening a national dock strike in the event of this Bill getting on to the statute book. That is grossly reprehensible. I hope that no one working in Southampton would have anything to do with it.
At the same time, however, national members of the TGWU and the Labour party itself are committed to a policy of imposing sanctions against South Africa at a stroke. If such sanctions were brought in it would destroy the port of Southampton — the people in the Public Gallery today know that—because it would take away one third of the container traffic going through Southampton at the moment. So we do not want to have too much humbug about this.
I hope that, in the light of the new developments that have taken place since the Second Reading, the House will consider very carefully whether it would be right to allow this Bill to be carried over to the next Session and whether it would not be much fairer for all concerned for it to have to start again then.
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)
The hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) accused my hon. Friend the 105 Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) of making unsubstantiated assertions. I would like to level the same charge at the hon. Member for Suffolk, South. It is a pity that he is no longer in place to hear it. The reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich continues to represent that splendid constituency is that he assiduously defends his constituents' interests. That is why they continue to support him no matter what adversity may be affecting the Labour party nationally at the time. My hon. Friend was absolutely justified in saying what he did in relation to what is, after all, substantial new evidence that has come to light since we debated this matter on 13 May this year.
Your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, indicated that all Members who took part in this debate this evening—and rightly so—must confine their remarks to the issues which are currently on the Order Paper. None of us has any quarrel with that at all. Our difficulty, however, is that this is a rather unusual situation. It is certainly unusual for many of my hon. Friends, and I notice that the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) found a little difficulty in staying in order when trying to say the things that he wished to say. I understand the position of the Chair. If, during my brief contribution, I wander outside the terms of reference of the debate, it will be because I find it somewhat difficult to address my remarks to the narrow proposal before us.
The parliamentary and constitutional issue was best spelt out by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) when he said that if the House prevented the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company from carrying this private Bill through this evening's procedures into the next Session of Parliament, in a sense that would be offending the traditions of the House of Commons. I believe that, too, for several reasons, some of which I shall attempt to adduce.
It is a thoroughly bad practice for anybody to bring a private Bill to the House of Commons that fundamentally—I use the word constructively—disturbs the national pattern of ports policy. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) has belatedly gone down the road to Damascus with regard to ports policy. There are two new reasons for not preventing the Bill going further, and that is the conversion of the hon. Members for lichen and Test who have been lobbied heavily by their constituents. I should say in fairness to them that I made on Second Reading exactly the same points that they both made tonight. I am sorry that they could not join me in the Lobby when we debated that on 13 May.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) said that one of the issues that has come to light since Second Reading is the decision by the Nature Conservancy Council and Suffolk Coastal county council to designate the area of the estuary of the Orwell a site of special scientific interest, notified under section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. If a county council and a reputable body have decided so to notify that area of estuarial water as an SSSI under the Act, I should have thought that the House of Commons would take serious cognisance of the fact. That is one of the substantial reasons whey we are taking our present position.
On Second Reading, although petitions were laid by many conservation bodies, that position had not been officially taken by the county council and the NCC. As it has been ratified by those bodies after Second Reading, it is important to outline some of the reasons why that was done. Many Conservative Members have referred to it.
106 The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) graced us with his presence rather late in the debate. No doubt he will make his excuses if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He cannot ignore the substantial body of opinion in his own area, together with the fears of the national bodies concerned with the conservation of wildlife, about the dangers to that unique habitat in East Anglia of the extension of Felixstowe. I need not rehearse all the arguments. They are clear and concise. I have no doubt that everybody concerned with the issue and the debate will have received the contents of the petition of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which refers to the unique habitat surrounding the Felixstowe area, which will be irreparably damaged if the Bill proceeds. The House should not consider proceeding further without taking proper cognisance of what that august body has said.
If that claim by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is not enough, the House has a duty and responsibility in the national interest. On Second Reading, I drew the Minister's attention at some length to the way in which the Bill would undermine the very precarious national balance in our ports system today. If the Bill is to be allowed to proceed into the next Session of Parliament, the House would have done far better today to say that it should be taken away and submitted to the planning application procedure just as the proposal to extend Stansted airport was submitted to the planning application procedure and to a public inquiry. I believe that developing Felixstowe as proposed will have the same effect on our ports as the Stansted extension will have on our airports and that this is, therefore, a matter of great national interest.
Neither the Minister nor anyone else in the Chamber today has seriously and intellectually challenged the evidence to which I drew attention on 30 May. I refer to the evidence submitted by Dr. Gilman of the marine transport department of Liverpool university. Dr. Gilman has considered the matter very seriously and produced an academic paper on the subject. He has considered the levels of trade and the volume of imports and exports. The hon. Member for Suffolk, South shakes his head, but even he, in his somewhat spurious five-minute contribution today, did not challenge the intellectual basis of the argument that I made on Second Reading, and that is the kernel of our argument today.
Fresh evidence has now emerged in support of the case that we made about total tonnage movable in the United Kingdom. Either it can all be moved through Felixstowe or it can be moved through various other ports in the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Suffolk, South and the Minister, however, must address themselves to the fact that there is already enormous overcapacity. If the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill proceeds into the next Session of Parliament without a wide-ranging planning investigation and without a public inquiry, the five berths at Felixstowe will provide 3.5 million tonnes additional cargo capacity for a system which requires just over 9 million tonnes in total and is already adequately provided for. All the academic research on cargo-handling trends, ro-ro services and containerisation shows that we are handling less cargo than in 1977 and 1979. Indeed, we are probably handling about as much as we did at the start of the container revolution in 1967, so the current handling capacity of our ports requires no additional provision at Felixstowe.
§ Mr. Yeo
The hon. Gentleman accused me of not responding to his point, but it has not been made in this debate by either the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) or the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden). The point was adequately answered on Second Reading by many Conservative speakers, and it was voted on. The hon. Gentleman is now dredging up the Second Reading debate again, and that has nothing to do with this motion. The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company is the best body to decide on the commercial prospects for an expansion of Felixstowe. If it makes a mistake, it will make a loss. No taxpayers' money is involved in the scheme, and I have no doubt that the company has made a careful judgment about the prospect of future tonnage. On its past record, the company's judgment seems to be remarkably good.
§ Mr. Stott
That is so, and if the hon. Gentleman had read or heard what I said on Second Reading he would know that I paid tribute to the way in which the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company had made that port a success —there is no doubt about that. However, one cannot simply approve a project that, in the face of all the evidence available to us both on Second Reading and since then, will have a dramatic effect on the national interest of our ports.
Why does the hon. Member for Suffolk, South think that the hon. Members for Itchen and for Test are now getting cold feet about the proposition? They know the damage that this extension would cause to their ports, as my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich and Garston know how it would affect the ports in their constituencies.
I accept that the hon. Member for Suffolk, South is ploughing his constituency furrow when he defends the Bill. However, I cannot agree that the Bill would be in the national interest, and therefore——
§ Mr. Stott
I must finish because the Minister must have time to wind up the debate.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, I believe that there is a constitutional case against the Bill continuing into the next Session. There are also good sound, practical reasons.
I do not commit my party one way or the other. It is essential that we bear a certain factor in mind. The Government have proceeded at a great pace to try to get a resolution of the fixed link. They have encouraged it and set up an organisation that will evaluate the projects submitted to the Secretary of State. Whether or not we agree with the fixed link across the Channel does not affect the fact that if it were to come about it would have profound effects on our port strategy for the south and east coasts of the United Kingdom.
I have no doubt that the Minister has been to visit Dover, as I did early this year. Some 11,000 people are employed in that port, which moves more in tonnage and value than does Felixstowe. If there is to be at some stage a fixed link across the Channel, it will have a profound effect on our ports policy, and on what the Bill is proposing to do.
Like the hon. Member for Test, I believe that there should be a proper national ports policy. We should not proceed through piecemeal legislation such as this, nor should we do something that we should all regret.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)
I shall reply briefly to the debate, because this is a procedural motion. I shall simply advise the House of the Government's attitude.
The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) sought to draw me on the net effect of these proposals on the extension of employment in the ports industry. On another occasion I should be happy to debate the merits of allowing the growth of port capacity where customers want it versus the merits of refusing that development and forcing customers to use existing capacity elsewhere. Tonight I must resist that temptation. I am sure that the hon. Member for Ipswich will understand why. Likewise, I shall not follow the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) in his forecast of the capacity required in United Kingdom ports; nor shall I follow his speculation about a Channel fixed link and its possible effects.
The hon. Member for Ipswich asked me about the possibility of legislative backing for the guarantees promised by Felixstowe. My Department takes the view that parts of the harbour revision order are ultra vires as regards guarantees for Ipswich traffic. It is not for me to speculate at this stage about what legislative alternatives may be available to provide the port of Ipswich with the guarantees that it seeks. It is for the parties concerned—Ipswich, Harwich and Felixstowe — to sort out a legislative solution among themselves.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
If the House did not pass the carry-over motion today and the promoters had to introduce a new Bill, it would then be possible for them to solve the vires problem.
§ Mr. Mitchell
As I was trying to say to the House, it is entirely a matter for the parties to decide the way in which they wish to proceed.
To return to the Government's view, I understand that it is not infrequent for there to be a carry-over motion of this kind. From the remarks that I made on Second Reading, the House will be aware that the Government's stand is neutral in relation to the Bill, as is customary in such circumstances. I recommended to the House that the Bill should be given a Second Reading and allowed to proceed in the usual way to Committee where its provisions could be considered in detail. It is consistent with that approach that the Government therefore support the carry-over motion. The case for supporting the motion has been put eloquently by a number of my hon. Friends.
This is an important private Bill, although a controversial one. The House affirmed the principle of the Bill, albeit conditionally, on Second Reading and subject to proof of allegations of fact before the Committee. If the motion is carried, the House will have an opportunity to consider the arguments for and against the Bill on the basis of the current proposals before it in Committee and at later stages. It is perhaps fair to say that it is no fault of the promoters that the Bill has not made more rapid progress in this Session, due to wholly unlooked for problems that arose in connection with the proposed chairmanship of the Committee that was appointed to examine the Bill.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Does the Minister accept that if the promoters had made more of an attempt to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) and other objectors, particularly the petitioners, and that if they 109 had been able to meet some of the points made in the petitions and got those petitions withdrawn, much more rapid progress could have been made?
§ Mr. Mitchell
Progress could hardly have been made without the Bill going into Committee. The motion before the House would allow exactly that. It would enable the Committee to consider whether proper arrangements had been made to meet the points that have been raised by hon. Members speaking on behalf of, for example, the port of Ipswich, which clearly is very much involved in the consequences of the proposed measure. The view of the Government is that it would be unfortunate if the House were not to agree to the motion. Therefore, I urge the House to allow the Bill to be carried over in the usual way and to agree to the motion.
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
First, I apologise to the House for not being here during the very early stages of the debate. I had to attend an important conference in Newcastle which discussed, interestingly enough, the marine environment. Therefore, it is apposite that I should participate in this debate, albeit on the motion in front of the House, in terms of the marine environment. It is also apposite that I should represent, with my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), one of the major ports in this country, which is on the Tyne. I do not speak as a constituency Member or in defence of the Tyne port. I do not need to do so.
The Bill should not be carried over into the next Session. Many developments affecting the Bill have occurred since we had our wide-ranging Second Reading debate on 13 May. Sufficient new evidence and information of national import has been obtained since then to merit my submission. The Bill may appear to be an innocuous, local measure, but it has wide-ranging implications not only for the Felixstowe area but for places such as Southampton and Liverpool.
The changes in economic factors since we discussed the Bill on 13 May were skilfully argued by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch). He described the nuances in the changes in the economic arguments, especially in relation to jobs. The hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) used the same employment statistics to support his case. The statistics show a worsening economic position. That is why I think that we should refuse to allow a carry-over period.
We are conscious not only of the Bill's economic and conservation implications but of its effect on the leisure industry. Since the Second Reading further aspects have emerged. We were all aware of the navigational problems. We knew that if the river were deepened and the wharfs built the channel would be restricted and that the pleasure boats would have to use the same routes as merchant ships. In addition to that, new marinas are being developed at Dovercourt, Harwich and Shotley, which will have an effect on navigational rights on the river. The Minister made it clear that navigational disputes between Ipswich and Felixstowe are ultra vires and must be settled elsewhere.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The Minister failed to answer my question. I argued that if we had a new Bill it would be possible to include such considerations in that new Bill. I understand that since the promoters gave notice 110 in their original proposals that they would include that aspect in the Bill there would be no difficulty. If the promoters took the Bill away and started again they could solve the problem from the start and it would he tied up in legislation instead of being left in such an airy-fairy way that the guarantees sought by Ipswich cannot be given.
§ Dr. Clark
My hon. Friend, perhaps. deploys my argument more skilfully than I can. That is the very thrust of the point I intended to make.
In addition to having a responsibility to the good citizens of Felixstowe, the House has a responsibility to the people of Ipswich. The problem of navigational rights is tricky, as I well know from my experience on the Clyde and from our debates on the Norfolk Broads. Indeed, we may have to deal with a private Bill from the Norfolk Broads. Navigational rights are common rights and cannot be bartered over a table. Those rights must be negotiated in this Chamber alone.
I use the Minister's argument to support the point that the Bill should not be carried over. If the promoters feel it proper and right to extend the port, they should return to the House with a new Bill I believe that to be the logic of the Minister's case.
§ Mr. Stott
My hon. Friend makes a salient point, and I should have touched on it in my contribution. I draw his attention to column 102 of Hansard of 13 May, when I read into the record a letter from Captain Wiechmann, master of the Cast Salmon—a ship that travels up and down the Orwell river regularly. He expressed concern thatif the proposed extension of the Felixstowe quays takes place into the narrower section of the River Orwell, then the reduced channel will effectively prevent any possibility of passing whilst vessels are berthing or unberthing at the new quays."— [Official Report, 13 May 1985; Vol. 79, c. 102.]That seagoing master regularly uses the river. He has committed his views on paper in a letter to his employers.
Would it not be better for the Bill to be withdrawn so that we could obtain the views of the pilots, the master mariners and others who use the river about the Felixstowe proposals?
§ Dr. Clark
I concur with my hon. Friend. I have a report of his speech in front of me now. He makes a salient point. The Minister may argue that the Bill should be allowed to go to Committee, but that does not help the House. As we all know, it is Second Reading that provides an opportunity for a wide-ranging debate.
The rules of the House will not easily allow the introduction of new information. Therefore, we should start again with a wide-ranging debate on the merits of the case. We are this evening discussing a narrow motion on whether the Bill should be carried over.
The hon. Member for Suffolk, South made an interesting point when he said that the proposal did not affect the environment and then referred to the planting of trees. The House might wish to know that it is reported that the port of Felixstowe is prepared to plant 500,000 trees to screen the development. It thinks that that planting would make the scheme environmentally attractive. However, if it takes 500,000 trees to make the scheme environmentally attractive, there must be something environmentally unsound in the first place.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Is it intended to plant broadleaved trees or conifers? Many people have been alarmed about the environmental impact of conifers.
§ Dr. Clark
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point to which I shall come when I deploy the next stage of my argument.
The hon. Member for Suffolk, South spoke about the development affecting not the environment but the habitat. The whole point about that habitat, which has been declared an SSSI, is that it is not forest but mud flats. That is where birds such as redshanks, turnstones and grey and ringed plovers go. They go there not because there are trees there but because there are not trees there. That is the especial value of the site. That is why that area, rather than, say, the Kielder forest, was declared an SSSI. Put 500,000 trees there and there would be no point in designating it an SSSI. Fleet forest, Galloway, Kielder forest or the New Forest would serve the purpose.
That brings me to the whole question of the new information in relation to the SSSI. I remind hon. Members again that the Second Reading took place on 13 May last. The Nature Conservancy Council, the body responsible for advising the Government and the nation on matters pertaining to the natural sciences and the environment, notified Suffolk county council, the owners, on 20 August that the area should be designated a site of special scientific interest.
Following the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Act 1985, which received the Royal Assent in June and became effective on 26 August, that site became protected. That is a new development of which this House did not have knowledge when the issue was discussed on 13 May.
The whole scientific reason for that designation was not because there were 500,000 trees in the area but, rather, because there were not 500,000 trees there. That designation was not lightly given. Under the Ramsar convention, the area has been designated an EEC special protection area. It is regarded as an area of outstanding international quality. It is of immense value to wildfowl, waders and other birds.
It is our job in Parliament to deliberate on these matters as a whole, and Back Benchers, especially on the Opposition Benches, depend greatly on information given to us by outside bodies. Reference has been made to the RSPB. I have no doubt that the Transport and General Workers Union gave advice, for example, to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich. We have a responsibility to listen to the arguments advanced by outside bodies, especially those that Parliament has set up to advise hon. Members.
In 1973 we established the Nature Conservancy Council to advise us on matters pertaining to the natural sciences. When we debated this issue on 13 May, we did not have the benefit of that council's advice. Its advice was not made public—I do not know whether it was given to the Minister beforehand—until 24 May 1985. Again, that is a pertinent piece of new information.
The council's attitude to the proposal of the Felixstowe company is outlined in considerable detail and with great clarity in four pages. It is the first time that we have been able to discuss the council's analysis. That is a reason why we should start again and have another Second Reading if we so wish. The council has analysed the likely effect of the Bill's enactment on the bird population and the natural habitat. It states that it would be impossible to recreate the present habitat and adds:In view of the foregoing, the Nature Conservancy Council must advise that the passage of this Bill would lead to serious 112 damage to nature conservation interests and the national and international status of the Orwell Estuary. Therefore, the Nature Conservancy Council consider that the interests of nature conservation would be best served if the Bill is not enacted.That was made public on 24 May.
On two national dimensions—the establishment of the SSSI and the evidence of the NCC—it is clear that we should not allow the Bill to go forward. If we allow it to proceed, we shall have only a truncated debate on an issue which has major national ramifications.
The issue is not as simple as that. Since the debate of 13 May other evidence has become available about the establishment of the area of outstanding natural beauty. The area in question was one of the original 36 AONBs which various Governments of both political complexions have seen fit to establish. It is a great pity that the present Government do not have the determination to establish the north Pennine as an AONB without sheltering behind a public inquiry. When they designated the area that we are discussing there was no need for a public inquiry. The Government were so sure that it was an area of outstanding natural beauty that they felt that there was no need to hide behind an inspector. They were able on their own judgment and on the merits of the case to establish the area as one of outstanding natural beauty because of the quality of the land.
It is interesting to consider the importance of an area of outstanding natural beauty. I recommend all Members to read an article that appeared in the County Council Gazette of September 1985 by Mr. Edwin Barritt, the county planning officer of Suffolk. In that article he argues fairly and outlines the conflict between the environment and jobs. He addresses himself to whether new jobs will be created and makes two pertinent points that are relevant to the motion. He quotes the Secretary of State for the Environment, and it is to be noted that no Minister from the Department is on the Government Front Bench this evening. It appears that in 1982 the then Secretary of State for the Environment said:It would be inconsistent with the aims of designation"—that is, designation as an AONB—to permit the siting of major industrial and commercial developments in areas of outstanding natural beauty. Only proven national interest and lack of alternative sites can justify"—
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 123, Noes 52.113
|Division No. 293]||[10.12 pm|
|Amess, David||Lang, Ian|
|Ancram, Michael||Lawler, Geoffrey|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Lester, Jim|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Lightbown, David|
|Beggs, Roy||Lilley, Peter|
|Best, Keith||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Lord, Michael|
|Blackburn, John||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||McCrindle, Robert|
|Bottomley, Peter||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Maclean, David John|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Major, John|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Maples, John|
|Browne, John||Mates, Michael|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Mather, Carol|
|Burt, Alistair||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Butcher, John||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Cash, William||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Cockeram, Eric||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Colvin, Michael||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Coombs, Simon||Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)|
|Cope, John||Murphy, Christopher|
|Couchman, James||Neubert, Michael|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Norris, Steven|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Onslow, Cranley|
|Dover, Den||Page, Sir John (Harrow W)|
|Durant, Tony||Penhaligon, David|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Fallon, Michael||Pollock, Alexander|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Forth, Eric||Powley, John|
|Fox, Marcus||Raffan, Keith|
|Franks, Cecil||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Freeman, Roger||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Gow, Ian||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Gregory, Conal||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Ground, Patrick||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Harris, David||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)||Waddington, David|
|Hayes, J.||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Hind, Kenneth||Warren, Kenneth|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Wood, Timothy|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Key, Robert||Sir Eldon Griffiths and Mr. Tim Yeo.|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Crowther, Stan|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Dewar, Donald|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Dixon, Donald|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Dormand, Jack|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.|
|Chope, Christopher||Eastham, Ken|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Foster, Derek|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Foulkes, George|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||George, Bruce|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Golding, John||Nellist, David|
|Gould, Bryan||Pike, Peter|
|Haynes, Frank||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Redmond, M.|
|Hill, James||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Rogers, Allan|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Skinner, Dennis|
|Lambie, David||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Loyden, Edward||Spearing, Nigel|
|McCartney, Hugh||Stott, Roger|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Strang, Gavin|
|MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|McNamara, Kevin||Welsh, Michael|
|Marek, Dr John||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Mr. Ken Weetch and Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.|
|Maynard, Miss Joan|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly:—114
§ The House divided: Ayes122, Noes 53.115
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the promoters of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with the Bill, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament, provided that the Agents for the Bill give notice to the Clerks in the Private Bill Office not later than the day before the close of the present Session of their intention to suspend further proceedings and that all fees due on the Bill up to that date be paid.
That on the fifth day on which the House sits in the next Session the Bill shall be presented to the House.
That there shall be deposited with the Bill a declaration signed by the Agents for the Bill, stating that the Bill is the same in every respect, as the Bill at the last stage of its proceedings in this House in the present Session.
That the Bill shall be laid upon the Table of the House by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office on the next meeting of the House after the day on which the Bill has been presented and, when so laid, shall be read the first and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed).
That all Petitions relating to the Bill presented in the present Session which stand referred to the Committee on the Bill shall stand referred to the Committee on the Bill in the next Session.
That no Petitioners shall be heard before the Committee on the Bill, unless their Petition has been presented within the time limited within the present Session or deposited pursuant to paragraph (b) of Standing Order 126 relating to Private Business.
That in relation to the Bill, Standing Order 127 relating to Private Business shall have effect as if the words "under Standing Order 126 (Reference to committee of petitions against bill)" were omitted.
That no further fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during the present Session.
That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.